Monday, April 23, 2012

Fussy Chickens

They're always a bit fussy in the morning anyway. Dashing out of the coop and checking out the world first thing has them likely to be chattering away. Hens are cackling over eggs. Roosters are horny, especially this time of year, or calling hens to some tasty morsel they just dug up.

But we've seen Reynard, the local red fox, too many times lately, so this time I decided to check. 6:54 a.m., full daylight, and he's just outside their gate, about 10 m from the front door; hens are huddled under the big juniper, wary and restless. Naturally, I let the dogs out, and watched as the fox took off to the east and the dogs, logically, dashed north. I'm not sure they ever saw him, but he saw them, so it did the trick.

It's April, after all, and Earth Week, which seems to be a prime time for spotting predators around here. It was April 2001 when we had our first and only eagle attacks; Earth Day 2004 when the coyote attack (only one to date, thankfully) occurred. About 20 chickens died in those episodes. At least the eagle was thoughtful enough to take only one a week.

I realize we have somewhat inadvertently baited local predators by even deciding to keep chickens. On the whole we've been successful—and lucky—these last 16 years, and foxes have not been a problem, even last year, when neighbors kept saying "did you see the fox?" and we kept saying "No!" Lucky, that is, until last Sunday. I was just back from a weekend away, and spotted feathers as I went out to lock up the flock. Too many feathers for this time of year, it's not moulting season and they were too fresh. Sure enough, one short on the beak count! One of the young Araucanas, the ones that like to hop the fence and hang out in the backyard, would no longer be coming home.

Later I found the piles of feathers, drifts in some places, that marked the sites of what must have been a fair struggle. Poor hen.

The dogs are elderly now, 13 and 11, and consider themselves retired. They'd rather spend the day sleeping on the couch than out monitoring for trespassers. In particular, Starbuck (no relation to coffee) has lost much of his hearing and doesn't respond easily. Since their rush to the scene of excitement this a.m. and momentary interest, they are now lobbying strenuously to come back inside.

The fox, who has a good understanding of fences and dogs it seems, circled east and around into the driveway, reluctant to leave and clearly thinking another source of interest might present itself. So I am also on duty, and have to add my eyes and ears to the patrol, checking the east drive regularly in the direction Foxy Reynard went off, with a window open to noise on the west, and with one dog stationed north, the other south. Can their acuity—and mine—be trusted? Will it be enough?

[Technical difficulties prevent photos at the moment; I hope I can put some up later. No fox pix yet anyway...]

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